Confronting a suspected drug using employee

I recently received a question, asking for suggestions on how to confront a suspected drug using employee.  First, I would review all applicable company policies, such as workplace conduct, attendance and drug free workplace policies.  Are there performance issues, work rule violations, attendance problems, behavior at work that is inconsistent with your customer service standards, etc…  If the employee’s performance is below standard, then the manager has a great opening to discuss the employee’s problems & performance and share his/her observations about conduct at work and ask the employee for improvement.  This is objective data.

Second, if the company has a drug free workplace (with a provision for reasonable suspicion testing) and the employee is showing demonstrated signed of possible drug use, then the manager should document the observations (good to have another management member confirm too – so it is not viewed as “personal”).  Signs include: mood changes, altered appearances, diminishing performance, disappearances during the shift, extended periods in the bathroom, problems with relationships at work, irritability, etc.  If these are sustained and recurring, or big changes from previous behavior, these may be signs of substance problems.  All documentation should be factual and not contain personal opinion, conclusions or unsubstantiated accusations.  Be objective.  Once documented, the manager has a good reason to question the employee about his/her observations.

Third, review the drug free workplace policy and the procedures for how and when a reasonable drug test can be administered.   Often, the policy procedures will have some information showing the things that may be signs of drug abuse, to help confirm reasonable suspicion.  If you have a relationship with an occupational medical provider, you can also ask for their professional opinion about your observations.  Did the employee sign a consent form?  You want to know your tools to handle the situation.

When you approach the employee, it is best to initial focus on your performance related observations and personal conduct observations, as well as any impact on customers.  You can directly confront the employee, and ask if they are involved in drug use.  If you approach it from the perspective of wanting to help and assist them (not just threatening to fire them), you may be able to learn about the problem(s) and focus on solutions.  Be concerned about their well-being, and express your desire to try and help them.  But be warned, that while you are concerned and want to help, you are the employer and not their parent.  There are consequences for their actions and this is a serious breach of policy.  The down side of directly confronting the employee about allegations of drugs, is that you may learn other medical information, or personal information.  Illegal drug use is not protected under any employment laws, but depending on the answers or the situation, ADA and other laws can be implicated.

To help the employee (regardless of answer), they can be referred to an Employee Assistance Program, or resources under the group health plan.  You should have a list of community resources available to share with this employee (but it is their problem to solve and address).  If you have the ability to drug test them under company policy, you can send them to test.  If they admit to drug use, document the admission and outline the consequences.  I suggest that you will need some concrete evidence (drug test result, admission, direct observation of drug use, etc…) to support taking action as a violation of drug free standards.  If this evidence does not exist and/or the employee does not embrace the opportunity to confront his/her challenges, then you can deal with performance or on-the-job behavior issues under policies and disciplinary rules.

Obviously, if you suspect an employee is under the influence at the time of your confrontation, do not sent the person home on their own, but be sure to offer the opportunity for a cab ride or some other safe means of transportation (either home or to the specimen collection site).

HR for Business – Consultstu LLC provides fractional HR services to small/mid businesses, and helps companies minimize HR costs and improve HR efficiency.  It assists clients with customized HR solutions that provide protection from expensive HR mistakes and strategies for improving employee engagement.  Contact Stuart Charlson at 727-350-0370, or email[email protected]

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